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Participation Trophies


It all started with participation trophies – kids receiving awards simply for showing up, for doing what they’re supposed to do. They are receiving validation from a worthless, meaningless plastic trophy that eventually gets stuffed in a closet, and forgotten – an unearned guaranteed award, a shiny contradiction in terms. Awards are not awards if they’re guaranteed. An award requires merit. If we remove merit, then we remove the meaning of the award. But at some point, adults believed that it was unfair that some kids got a trophy and others didn’t, and that certain kids were recognized for their achievements, and others weren’t. So, they made it that all you had to do was participate, and you were rewarded.


When I was in Little League, you received a trophy if you won the championship, if you were the MVP of the team, or if you were the most improved player. And that was it. If you didn’t do any of those three things, you didn’t get a trophy. And we were fine with it. Everyone knew who the best player on the team was, and we were okay with him getting recognized for that because we lived in reality back then. I played on many teams where I didn’t get a trophy, and that did not hurt my self-esteem one bit. In fact, not getting a trophy motivated me to work harder so the next year I would get recognized.


This participation trophy mindset has infected our younger generations. It has created generations of kids who need to be constantly validated regardless of what they did or how well they did it. They must be praised continuously, told how good they are, how special they are, that they accomplished something even though they hadn’t. Rather than building the child’s self-esteem on legitimate accomplishments, the participation trophy warps and distorts the child’s self-esteem because they are based on a lie, on nothing. And in the end, that is much more damaging to a child’s self-esteem then the disappointment of not earning a legitimate trophy.


This is not to say that adults should destroy the child’s self-esteem by being overly critical or disparaging. The most important aspect of building a child’s self-esteem is honesty. Do not lie to kids and pretend that they are better than they actually are, or worse than they actually are. Kids need honesty, kids thrive on honesty. Kids look to adults to find out what is the truth, so they can build their worldview around the truth. This why it’s so harmful to lie to children, or manipulate them, or indoctrinate them. All human beings depend on honesty and the truth no matter how uncomfortable or painful the truth may be. The truth does not always validate a person, the truth can sometimes expose a person.


But celebrating people for doing what is expected of them is permeating our society. There are cities in America that are paying people for simply behaving like citizens. San Francisco, New York and Richmond, VA have implemented programs that give money to people simply for not committing crimes, handing them a $500 to $1,000 per month reward for doing what they’re supposed to do, obey the law. Dwight Schrute once said, “citizens do not accept rewards for acting like citizens.” But being a productive member of society is no longer a reward onto itself, it must be validated with a monetary reward.


This need to be constantly validated in everything we do has led to movements like the “body positive” movement where plus-sized people are celebrated to the point that they become Victoria Secret lingerie models and Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. They define body positive as “accepting the body you have,” and “don’t change your body to get respect from society. Instead let’s change society to respect our bodies.” These people don’t even understand what they are doing. They have tied their self-worth to their body image to such a degree that they must deny reality to be validated.


Self-worth should never be tied to what our body looks like, but the body positivity movement is not separating self-worth from body image, they are tying them together by recasting the judgement about specific body images, and redefining what is physical beauty. They are still trapped in the need to be validated by what their body looks like. They don’t simply say, I am worthwhile regardless of what my body looks like, they have to say that their body is beautiful regardless of what it looks like, therefore everyone’s body is beautiful, just as everybody receives a trophy.


The participation trophy mindset leads to “safe spaces” on college campuses because a certain segment of the student body must be validated at all times. So, anybody who disagrees with them, is immediately labeled a threat; they violated their “safe space”. That person must be vilified, ostracized, and many times, silenced. Only one point of view is allowed to be expressed on college campuses. And many times, people are silenced based on their race and gender.


We see this all-over social media. That is why cancel culture is so pervasive. These people cannot handle others not approving of everything they say. They cannot stand to hear opposing points of view, so those different opinions must be labeled as dangerous, even violent, and therefore, must be censored. And the person who espoused those contrary opinions must be canceled, and no longer allowed to speak. This is why our politics have become so divisive. In the past, people used to be strong enough to agree to disagree with their political opponents. Now, they vilify their political opponents by calling them fascists and Nazis, because they are so deluded that they believe that only evil people would disagree with them.


Like the fake trophy, the need for constant validation, results in cheap, meaningless forms of validation, such as receiving “likes” on social media posts. Being “liked” again and again and again dictates many people’s self-worth. It makes no difference that “liking” someone takes the bare minimum of effort, each of those meaningless likes gives them a jolt of validation, of self-worth. How many of those “likes” are from people they really know? How many are from someone whose opinions they actually value? But the value of the like is not the point. It is about getting as many people as possible to “like” them, to validate them, regardless of who they are. In the end, this promotes an extremely shallow way to approach life.


We should post on the Internet what we believe is the truth or what brings some valuable insight to society. It should not matter whether we get one like or one million likes; they are all meaningless. Sadly, we live in a culture where it is more important to get likes on our posts, than to post the truth, or move the conversation forward. That is why we no longer have journalists anymore. Today, our so-called news journalists are primarily interested in getting clicks and likes on their posts, as opposed to pursuing the truth.


The modern journalist primarily posts the most sensational take on the story – the one that which will get the most clicks. And this is how we get to the point where they make statements like, men can have babies, women can have penises, all white people are racist, riots are peaceful protests, and free speech undermines democracy. The distortion of reality, the twisting of the truth is a direct result of the need for validation, the need for likes and clicks because the truth is not always popular. The truth is hard. The truth is uncomfortable. The truth is difficult to swallow. So, if you’re only interested in likes and clicks, you’re not going to put the truth out there because most people don’t want to hear the hard truth. They want to be validated as much as the journalist does. And that is why we all live in our self-created echo chambers, constant validation of who we are, and what we believe, as we further divide our country.


This narcissistic need for validation is rampant in the LGBTQ community that is so vocal today. They are no longer content with the motto “live and let live” – Let me live my life the way I want, and you live your life the way you want. That was the mindset of the gay rights movement 20 years ago. They just wanted to be left alone to live their lives. Now, with the participation trophy generation, that is no longer enough. They need everybody in society to validate their life choices and their lifestyle. That is the main reasons why LGBTQ community is so intent on indoctrinating other people’s children into their lifestyle. It is not enough for LGBTQ teachers to be welcomed into the teaching community, fully accepted, given their own classroom, and allowed to teach. No, they must use that platform to indoctrinate these young children into their lifestyle. They must impose their lifestyle, their morality, and their ideology onto these unsuspecting and highly impressionable children whether their parents want it or not.

And if any person even privately disagrees with their life choices, that person is labeled a hater and a threat. The LGBTQ community lacks the self-awareness to realize how judgmental and disapproving they are of people with different viewpoints. They are allowed to disagree with other people’s beliefs and morality, but no one is allowed to disagree with theirs. Not only do they expect the whole of society to approve and validate their lifestyle, they demand that everybody celebrates it. We see this time and again when people from the LGBTQ community go into a Christian bake shop, and demand that the baker bakes them a cake that celebrates their life choices and lifestyles which they know are inconsistent and incompatible with that baker’s religious beliefs. It does not matter that there are plenty of other bakeries who would be willing bake the cake they desire, they demand that this baker violates his religious beliefs to celebrate their life choices, or lose his livelihood through endless litigation.


Society’s willingness to go to great extremes to validate and even celebrate the LBGTQ community is evident when men who transition into women are glorified, winning “Woman of the Year” awards, and are praised for beating biological women in athletic competitions – the woke version of the participation trophy. Parents are now deriving their own self-worth from societies validation of the LGBTQ lifestyle. Many parents are taking great pride by having an LGBTQ child. They are seen as more virtuous, and a more loving parent if they have a child who is a part of that community. It is a constant need to be validated, to virtue signal, to show the world how special they are.


Self-worth and self-esteem does not come from a plastic trophy, or the “like” button, or being agreed with, or being told you’re beautiful, or forcing the rest of society to approve your lifestyle; true self-worth and self-esteem comes from rejecting all of those superficial and meaningless signs of validation. It comes from having the inner strength to know you are worthwhile regardless of what the world thinks of you because you know you were created in the image of God, and are his most valuable possession.


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Judd Garrett is a graduate from Princeton University, and a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He has been a contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.

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Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach and executive. He is a frequent contributer to the website Real Clear Politics, and has recently published his first novel, No Wind